Product-Assisted Growth: The Best Kept Secret of Product Led Companies

March 11, 2019

When it comes to product led growth, most of us are quick to think that there’s no need for human involvement—after all, the product leads the sale. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Infusing a human element into your product led go-to-market strategy gives you the best of both worlds.

The SaaS world of today adheres to two main go-to-market strategies. Sales and marketing-led and product-led. But there’s a third strategy that most SaaS companies are moving to. Introducing, product-assisted growth.

The problem with traditional go-to-market strategies

Sales and marketing-led strategies have been the norm for some time. Marketing teams create messaging to attract buyers. Salespeople then help prospective customers evaluate their solution. It’s not until they’re further down the funnel that the prospect is even presented the product and even then, it’s done so in a safe, canned demo environment.

Sales and marketing-led growth is great for finding a product-market fit, as salespeople are highly in tune with customer needs. However, as you scale you are likely to discover a gap between what customers think your product can do and what it’s actually capable of. Then you’re left scrambling to patch the revenue leak with additional customer success.

Product-led strategies live on the other end of the spectrum. Prospects are offered the chance to see the product before they speak to a salesperson. This is usually in the form of a limited functionality freemium offer or a free trial. In some low-touch purchase models, salespeople aren’t involved at all. Slack, Dropbox, and Atlassian are all poster children for the growth outcomes of a product-led go-to-market strategy done well.

Product-led strategies bridge this customer expectation gap by getting customers into your product from very early on during their evaluation. But if your freemium product or trial environment isn’t built to drive a prospect to the buying stage, you lose the fight before it even begins. And, there’s no salesperson to assuage the situation and help them along.

Product-assisted strategy lives between sales-led and product-led strategies. Prospective customers can gain access to a product without speaking to a sales rep, however, they must interact with one if they want to purchase the offering.

The benefits of a product-assisted strategy

According to a 2018 study by TrustRadius, directly experiencing your product increases a buyer’s trust. When it comes to information sources buyers trust most, having prior firsthand experience in the product ranks number one, followed closely by the opportunity to engage in a free trial/account. There is no better way to establish trust with your prospective buyer.

Establishing trust is one of the most difficult things to achieve at scale. Trust between a vendor and customers is key to unlocking a flywheel of growth across new customers, repeat customers and referrals.

Setting your product-assisted strategy up for success

In order for your sales team to highlight the most compelling areas of your offering to prospects, they need information. This information is collected in a variety of ways, the most critical being the “discovery call.” The best sales reps understand the challenges a prospect is looking to address and highlights how their product or service addresses these pain points in the most compelling way possible.

With a product-assisted method, your prospects are exploring ways your product can help them without direct influence from your sales team. This can cause apprehension in your sales team, since it can feel like you’ve taken away something that was fundamental to their job. “What happens if someone signs up for my product and leaves before I have a chance to highlight all the key areas?”

It’s a legitimate concern. While there are many product questions you need to be able to answer before moving to a product-assisted go-to-market motion, the most important one is (and be honest), “How intuitive is my product? Are my in-app engagements good enough for users to realize value without hand-holding?” This doesn’t mean your product isn’t valuable, but it’s unlikely a customer will endure an unintuitive product or a complicated setup process if they aren’t bought in on a value proposition that’s perceived to be worth the effort.

In my article, “Boost Enterprise Sales with Leads From Product Trials,” I listed the three operation components you need: mapping the buyer journey to your sales process, measuring Product Qualified Leads, and creating the Product-to-Sales handoff.

Once you’ve got the operational pieces in place, you’re able to then make your sales team part of the product trial experience.

How Gainsight does product-assisted growth

Let me walk you through an example of our product-assisted model here at Gainsight PX. We offer a free tier of our product. A prospect can sign up and directly access a full-featured version of our product, or if they choose to speak with someone first, they can request a demo as well.

The “Request a Demo” route follows the traditional path—a prospect is introduced to a sales team member to evaluate if our offering is best for them. If the prospect signs up for our free product trial, we initiate a behavior-driven nurture in the app and via email. These engagements are meant to educate and guide them through our product so they can find and solve their personal pain points.

If the person who signs up matches our Ideal Customer Profile, our inside sales team will research the customer and then reach out via email to let the prospect know there is someone available if they have questions. This adds value for the prospect while providing your sales rep with a compelling reason to initiate contact. If the prospect prefers to continue their use of the free offering unassisted by one of our reps, the rep will pause outreaches until the next critical moment occurs.

We’ve seen that email outreaches from our sales team, immediately following a free trial signup, have a 67% open rate and an 18% reply rate. Compare that to the reply rate of other email outreaches following an inbound activity, such as downloading a white paper or attending a webinar, and you’re looking at a 6x increase. Information like what features the prospect uses, or doesn’t use, or who they invite to join them in the trial becomes insights reps can use to personalize their follow-ups.

When the prospect reaches the usage threshold offered within the free tier, they become a PQL, or Product Qualified Lead. The customer experience through this process is outlined in the diagram below.

The prospect’s experience with the product changes at this point. This triggers an automated email to the prospect informing them they have a limited time left to use the offering, as they have exceeded the usage limit. We then offer a path to contact one of our reps to review with the prospect the paid offering that is most aligned with their objectives.

This email is followed with an introduction to the sales rep they will be speaking with. The rep has visibility into what the prospect has done with the product and is in a better position than before to recommend the appropriate offer. With any free offering, there can be an opportunity for misuse. We limit opportunities for misuse by revoking access to the product if there isn’t an open dialog with our sales team. In other words, the prospect reaches the “paywall.”

Product-assisted go-to-market: a powerful, new way to grow

Leveraging two powerful forces within your company—your product and your sales team—can help you successfully cultivate trust with your prospects. This not only results in a quicker sales cycle, but leads to long-term satisfied customers. All product-led and product-assisted approaches are works-in-progress and evolve based on our learnings as a community. The key to improvement is to define and understand your baseline conversion metrics, research and run experiments and measure the impact.

How can you build a better product experience that promotes growth? What’s stopping you from creating this synergy in your company? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Travis Kaufman

VP Product Growth

Travis Kaufman is the Vice President of Product Growth at Aptrinsic. Prior to Aptrinsic, Travis held product leadership roles at Leadspace and Marketo where he shaped the direction of B2B marketing technology. Travis brings over 15 years experience delivering innovative products to market across the marketing and sales tech landscapes including AI, social media marketing, display advertising and CRM sales forecasting.